🎭 Happy Habit #4: Invest in experiences—not things...

• 4 min read

Spend your time and money on experiences with other people, not material objects. You're likely to become happier, more likable and more generous.

Research Overview

There is overwhelming evidence that experiences make people happier than material possessions [1]. Furthermore, people tend to see materialistic people as more selfish and less enjoyable to engage with in social settings [2].

So much of our materialist desires are mimetic, that is, we don't actually want them intrinsically, we want them due to our bias for social comparison and imitation [3]. In other words, we want nice things because other people want them.

If we invest in experiences, we feel more satisfied and connected to other people who have had similar experiences [4]. When reflecting on the experiences we spend money on, we tend to feel more connected to others in general, more likely to engage in social activities and to behave in a way that benefits society as a whole.

Core Concept

'Hedonic adaptation' refers to the process by which we quickly return to a baseline of happiness after positive or negative events. We've all experienced this, but most of us are unaware how prevalent and powerful this phenomenon is. Hardly any of us think of the hedonic treadmill when we consider how we approach spending money, yet it is one of the key elements if we want to use our hard-earned money to build happier lives.

If you've ever noticed yourself getting less satisfaction from a physical pleasure in your life over time, you've experienced hedonic adaptation. There's a classic spike in the initial experience and then the enjoyment wanes over time. Eventually you find yourself yearning to take the next step up the hedonic treadmill towards the bigger, better, faster version of whatever we bought.

This is one of the main reasons we don't experience lasting happiness from buying stuff: We get used to it. We normalize it and feel less satisfied over time.

This is compounded by the fact we compare our material possessions to those of others.

With experiences on the other hand, we aren't able to adapt to them in the same way. The positive experiences live in our memory and allow us to ignite pleasure just by remembering them.

And we only have to pay for the experience the first time. What a bargain!

It's also more accessible for others to enjoy our shared experiences as we have evolved to tell stories as a primary mode of communication. Storytelling is the original form of entertainment and community building.

Bragging about the new car we got or fancy house doesn't light up the same parts of our brain as sharing a close encounter cliff diving.

So if you're looking to get a happiness return on your investment (hROI), play around but buying experiences instead of things!

Behavior Tips

Remember: Only try things you actually want to do. Guilt isn't a reliable motivator for creating lasting change. On the other hand, curiosity and playfulness is...

Assuming this is a happy habit you want to experiment with, you can approach this in a few ways. Here are some tips you might find helpful:

  1. Write down a list of five  awesome experiences
  2. Write down a list of five people who you'd like to have a new experience with
  3. Pick an experience and some people from your list.
  4. Send them a message and ask if they're up for it.
  5. Bonus: If you can afford to pay for the experience for someone else too, you'll get a happiness boost.

Awesome experiences

Here are a list of some awesome experiences that came to mind for me:

  1. Eat dinner at a social enterprise like Dans Le Noir (fine dining in total darkness, served by wait staff who are visually impaired)
  2. Go skydiving
  3. Rent a boat for a day
  4. Go to a concert or a performance
  5. Go on a Vipassana meditation retreat

Make buying stuff harder to do

If you're like me and find yourself constantly thinking about things that will make your life better, try making buying stuff harder to do:

  1. Delete credit cards from your top spend website (Amazon anyone?)
  2. Log out of that website and delete the app from your phone
  3. Unsubscribe from their marketing newsletters
  4. Make a copy of my Google Form "Things I Want to Buy" and commit to use this every time you want to buy something that you haven't budgeted for.
  5. Add it to your home screen and place it next to your 'Messages' like this


This is a really big shift in mindset for most people. I spent most of my life focusing on acquiring material possessions. My brain is hardwired to think about all the stuff I want.

It's been a fun exercise for me to try and direct my consumerist desires towards experiential ones. Hopefully you can enjoy this one too.

As always, give it a go and let me know what you think of this week's edition of Happy Habits!


  1. Van Boven, L., & Gilovich, T. (2003). To Do or to Have? That Is the Question. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 85(6), 1193–1202.
  2. Van Boven L, Campbell MC, Gilovich T. Stigmatizing Materialism: On Stereotypes and Impressions of Materialistic and Experiential Pursuits. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin. 2010;36(4):551-563. doi:10.1177/0146167210362790
  3. Solnick, Sara J, Hemenway, David (1998) Is More Always Better?: A Survey on Positional Concerns Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization Volume 37, Issue 3, 30 November 1998, Pages 373-383
  4. Amit Kumar, Thomas C. Mann, and Thomas D. Gilovich (2014) ,"Questioning the “I” in Experience: Experiential Purchases Foster Social Connection", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 42, eds. June Cotte, Stacy Wood, and , Duluth, MN : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 101-105.
← ✍🏻 Happy Habit #5: Write a Letter to Forgive
⌛️ Happy Habit #3: Savor The Last Moment →

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